The question is sometimes anxious, sometimes curious, but it always seems to come up as a coda to conversations about about my footloose, entrepreneurial, expat lifestyle. I think that it stems from several impulses. Sometimes friends see all of the hard work and occasional discouragement and hope that, in the end, it’s all worthwhile: Is this making you happy?. Sometimes it’s rooted in the differences of living outside the United States: Does this make you happy? (accompanied by a broad sweep of the arm around a narrow apartment or grocery). It may be a presumed rejection of things I left behind: Are you happy now?
Sometimes the simple answer is good; other times the subtext needs to be addressed. But the closing note is always the same: Yes, I’m happy with the opportunities, the life balance, the friends.
Yet, it’s seldom so deliberate or final.
No question that I find myself in happy moments or settings: moments that I sit in a café plotting strategy or lean against a terrace railing looking across a lake at distant mountains and am delightedly so. But those aren’t planned, lasting, or necessarily repeatable, they’re simple encountered coming around a trail’s bend.
Other times I’m happy to have achieved a difficult goal: we raised funding after a year of work, I see my kids being confident and poised. Some people think of this as their bucket list of things-to-do-before-you-die. I’ve never been so deliberate. But when a difficult goal is finally achieved, I feel deep pride and satisfaction, stepping off the path to admire the view.
Sometimes, there is happiness in how life has been arranged, that I’ve established material, financial and intellectual resources, emotional connections, insight and understanding. Life has value: I’m content and satisfied, avoiding loneliness or impoverishment, surrounded by important people and things. This is the hardest to come by as an expat and probably causes the most self-doubt: I dress for the weather, but can never be sure that I have everything I need.
All of these forms of happiness come along life’s course, and leave me believing that happiness is both evolutionary and transient. I set goals, work hard, journey far, and stay optimistic. Are you happy? Honestly, not so much so lately, but I’ve made good choices and will get there.
Or, more likely, find happiness in the journey.